Stephen Hawking: Is there meaning to life?

Flickr: Doug Wheller


Published: 22 July 2012 (GMT+10)

Under the banner title of Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design, the Discovery Channel has recently shown three TV episodes,1 narrated by Hawking, and titled respectively: “Did God Create the Universe?”, “The Meaning of Life”, and “Key to the Cosmos”. These are a visual re-presentation by Stephen Hawking of much of the material in his 2010 book, The Grand Design (co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow).2

The book was thoroughly reviewed and critiqued by CMI’s Jonathan Sarfati in his article Hawking atheopathy: Famous physicist goes beyond the evidence.3 In this article we shall discuss the first two of these episodes, and then give our answer to the questions raised therein. The third episode will be the subject of another article.

Episode 1: “Did God Create the Universe?

This was a re-run of the Curiosity TV program of the same title, shown in the USA and Australia in 2011, which we commented on in Curiosity: Did God create the universe? Prof. Hawking’s answer to the question in the title was:

There was no time before the big bang … for God to exist in. What happened at the beginning of the universe is the final key for removing the need of a creator of the universe. … There is no God who directs our fate. There is probably no heaven and no after-life either.

Really? Although the learned professor is a perceived authority on modern physics and cosmology, this does not make him an ‘information all-rounder’, i.e. an authority on theology, providence, eschatology, and immortality. Nor yet on historical or forensic science.4 Indeed most of the elements of the big bang theory as promoted by Stephen Hawking are now being challenged by many of his fellow evolutionist professors. These challenges include:

  1. Hawking’s belief that everything in the universe originated from nothing, which his peers say contradicts the principle that every effect needs a cause.
  2. Rather than there being nothing before the big bang, as Hawking claims, many evolutionist cosmologists are now trying to fabricate ways to explain how our present universe emerged from one or more preceding universes (while at the same time avoiding saying how the first one began).
  3. Invoking infinity, as Hawking does in the idea that everything in the universe was once in an infinitely small point of infinite density (a singularity). This is regarded by one expert as “the same as giving up or cheating” (see Dr Param Singh, the big bounce in What happened before the big bang?)

As details of all the above are available in our article, What happened before the big bang?, we shall not comment further here. However, we can’t help but wonder why a man of Professor Hawking’s undoubted mental acumen but limited health and strength feels the need to spend so much time and effort trying to convince the world that God does not exist. Is he perhaps trying to substantiate the wishful thinking of German atheist Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), who wrote: “We deny God; in denying God we deny accountability”?5

Episode 2: “The meaning of Life

In this program Prof. Hawking asks and then attempts to answer the question: “Is there a reason why we exist, a meaning to life?” He begins by telling us his personal axiom that everything in life is nothing more than physics.6

According to Hawking, the laws of physics not only produced the universe we live in, but also our minds.

The Game of Life

In support of the latter proposition, Hawking shows viewers a computer program called The Game of Life, invented by a John Conway in the 1970s. This is an arrangement of squares in a grid (something like a chessboard of unlimited size) that simulates a two-dimensional ‘universe’. Some squares in the grid can reproduce themselves and then amalgamate with each other, if the starting configuration has been given the right set of instructions to cause this to happen. Viewers are then told that “it is possible to imagine that something like The Game of Life, with only a few basic laws, might produce highly complex features, perhaps even intelligence.”

We suggest that this would depend very much on who was doing the imagining! This fanciful conclusion is a repeat from Hawking and Mlodinow’s book,7 in which it leads on to Hawking’s extraordinary claim that the universe created itself:

Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in Chapter 6.8 Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.9

The logical errors in this statement are almost too numerous to recount. Here are some:

  1. How can anything create itself before it exists?
  2. What intrinsic property does nothing have that enables it to create anything?
  3. Gravity is the force of attraction that arises between objects by virtue of their masses. So before any matter existed, no gravity existed. How then could it have operated before it existed?
  4. If any law of physics caused the universe to create itself, then that law must have existed before the universe began, i.e. before time began, and so that law must be outside of time. But how could that be?
  5. What (or who) created the laws of physics?
  6. Scientific laws do not create anything. They describe things that already exist, or processes that are observable and repeatable. They do not cause anything any more than the outline of a map causes the shape of the coastline it describes.
  7. Spontaneous creation … Just how do the laws of physics achieve this?

Intellectual nonsense does not suddenly become gospel truth because it is uttered by a famous savant.

Reality—subjective or absolute?

On this subject, Hawking advances the classical evolutionist line that reality is in the mind of the beholder. To do this he shows us a girl holding a glass bowl that contains a swimming goldfish. The world that the girl sees (a market place) looks very different from the same world as seen by the goldfish through its curved glass bowl. From this, Hawking tells us that he doesn’t think that one reality is more valid than another, so to him this means that reality itself is in the mind of the beholder, i.e. reality is subjective.

However, according to The New Oxford Dictionary of English, the primary meaning of ‘reality’ is: “The world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.” If the girl were in a similar glass bowl, and had eyes adjusted to the refractive index of water like the fish’s, then she would see the market place similarly to the way the fish sees it. And if either were blind, then they would not see the market place at all. The market place itself would not change as a result of being variously viewed, or cease to exist when not viewed at all. Nor is evidence for anything limited to sight. A market place in particular can be experienced by our other senses of smell, taste, touch, and hearing.

Hawking then introduces us to quarks as the invisible building blocks of protons, and he asks: “Are quarks a reality?” His own answer:

They exist only in so far as they are a model that works. This is called the concept of model-dependent reality. I believe this leads directly to the meaning of life.

This leads to the following exegesis by Hawking:

  1. “The brain is responsible not only for the reality we perceive, but also for our emotions and meaning too.”
  2. “Love and honour, right and wrong, are part of the universe we create in our minds just as a table, a plane, and a galaxy.”
  3. “The meaning of life is what you choose it to be. It is not somewhere out there but right between our ears. This makes us the lords of creation.”

Our answer

Hawking’s amateurish philosophizing raises the question: what happens when different brains create different ‘realities’ or have different ideas of right and wrong? They can’t all be right.

As Bible-believing Christians, we begin with the axiom that God does exist and has revealed Himself to man, and man has the ability to apprehend this revelation. This gives us different answers to the questions that puzzle Hawking.

  1. God, as revealed in the Bible, is the eternal uncaused first cause.
  2. God created the universe and everything in it.
  3. God chose to do this in six days about 6,000 years ago.
  4. God created mankind in His own image and likeness.
  5. There is another dimension to reality besides that which we can describe with our five senses, or in Hawking’s case assume if it substantiates a model. This is what God says exists. It includes Heaven and Hell, and Satan. And other realities include life after death and future judgment, as well as sin, forgiveness of sin, and peace with God.
  6. Because God created us, He had a purpose in doing so. Many parts of the Bible speak of this—our main purpose is simply to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

Revelation 4:11 says, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.


  1. In July 2012 in Australia. Return to text.
  2. Hawking, S., & Mlodinow, L, The Grand Design, Bantam Press, London, 2010. Return to text.
  3. Also in Journal of Creation 25(1):25–29, 2011. Return to text.
  4. Conducting experiments to observe effects is called operational science, whereas hypotheses about the unobserved and unobservable past involve historical or forensic science. Return to text.
  5. Nietzsche, F., Twilight of the Idols, Chapter 6, The Four Great Errors, section 8, trans. by R.J. Hollingdale. Return to text.
  6. An axiom is an assumption made without proof for the purpose of argument. Return to text.
  7. Ref. 2, p. 225. Return to text.
  8. Chapter 6 of The Grand Design book deals principally with Hubble’s concept of an expanding universe that was smaller in the past, Eddington’s concept of this as a bubble, Friedmann’s concept of inflation proceeding at greater than the speed of light, and the claimed uniform cosmic background radiation. Return to text.
  9. Ref. 2, p. 227. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Dismantling the Big Bang
by Alex Williams, John Hartnett
US $17.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

nsamba T.
Am a theoretical physicist and i have something to say about your specific attack on stephen hawking's statement that the universe was uncaused.it goes like this;while science has not reached the end of its journey,christianity already reached so science has alot to discover about what happened before the big bang however all current theories suggest that it is possible for the universe to come from nothing and uncaused just like the spontaneity of radioactivity so we dont need to invoke a God in this just like in the god of the gaps. Next if God is allowed to exist uncaused why cant the universe be.also its a really bad idea to invoke religion into science since science is emprical unlike religion so i would want to see some respect for our work
Carl Wieland
Let me quote from a forthcoming small book of mine on the 2nd Law or Thermodynamics, which of course (unless you want to abandon science) implies that the universe must have had a beginning, so it can't simply be postulated to have existed for an eternity, unlike for the Christian, who can postulate this for God. (BTW, don't bother to come back with some endless cycle of oscillating bangs and crunches, as entropy eventually catches up with these as well.) So here is the promised quote:

"... leading proponents of the big bang are already confident they have found a way around any implications of a creator God. They have set up sophisticated-sounding theories of how the universe in effect created itself, with equal amounts of matter and antimatter spontaneously appearing out of nothing, out of ‘fluctuations in the quantum vacuum’.
However, this is fundamentally irrational. For one thing, the ‘nothing’ they postulate is not really nothing, as it presupposes that the laws of quantum mechanics already exist. For another, the validity of such reasoning is suspect on philosophical grounds. Consider:
1. Since we know from the 2LT that the universe had a beginning, this means that there must have been a time when it did not exist.
2. We know from the scientific law of cause and effect that everything that has a beginning has a cause, so the universe must have had a cause.
3. Something that does not exist cannot do anything—in particular, it cannot cause anything, including its own future existence."

I notice that you say it's a bad idea to invoke religion in science, but you may not have noticed that you have done exactly that, with various professions of faith, philosophical postulates like an uncaused or eternal universe, etc. So it's not a question of not having a religious faith, it's a question of what that faith is, what is its object, etc.

Finally, the many PhD scientists who work for and with CMI are all full of great respect for the empirical aspects of science, it is the philosophical conclusions and extrapolations where we differ. Some of the greatest scientists of all time, like Sir Isaac Newton, saw the entire scientific enterprise as 'thinking God's thoughts after him". The real question has to do with the truth of the matter, and that is the real job of science, finding out which faith-based paradigm (because all ultimately are this) is closer to the truth. Neither Newton nor today's creationist scientists think that by working to find out more about how God did what He says He did is somehow at, or heading towards, the end of the journey of discovery.
R. F.
God chose to do this in six days about 6,000 years ago
Are you kidding me? If you believe the world was created 6000 years ago you can take your god and shove it up your mouth of lies kid.
Carl Wieland
One wonders where all that passion is coming from. If it is supposed to have anything to do with the evidence, why such an outburst before, apparently, having checked out the evidence on this site, as the feedback rules encourage you to do? May I suggest a deep breath, and a willingness to reconsider with an open mind? Perhaps someone could look all around them at this amazing universe and say, "All this is supposed to have just happened--are you kidding me?"
Jesse M.
@J.L. no it doesn't, as it is not logically possible for all of us to be right since we all hold contradictiory positions. The REAL reason is written in the Proverbs: "every man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart". By our corrupt, fleshly nature, we all think we know best, until the Hoy Spirit openes your eyes and you see the Truth, which is, Jesus Christ.
J. L.
Exactly as he said, everything you believe in is a product of your own mind in that case everyone would be right given their own model of they reality they choose to live in. I think everyone here is just proving his point. if all of you are right then he will be right as well.
Daniel R.
Jeff M & Russell Grigg of course are both correct. Was Adam & Eve set up by God for the fall?? You can bet your bottom dollar they were. They were no match for the cunning of the Serpent, who of course, was not in the garden with them by mistake or coincidence. They got deceived by the deceiver of the whole world. It was a given, a done deal, a no brainer. Yet, God’s Hands were clean. Ingenious! A Master Planner and it unfolded to the letter. This Creator, He is a Genius, this was the beginning of His Creation of Man, this Adam 1. It was by no means the end. Creation was finished on the cross by Adam 2, Jesus Christ, which dawned the birth, the immaculate conception of a New Creature, born of the Spirit of Life out of the fallen, dead seed of Adam 1, which is called born again, that is the final product, the finished work of His Creation, the Bride of Christ called & chosen out of this valley of decision of whosoever will may come. This is a small take on the Glorious Masterpiece of all the many, many pieces, all tied together and all revealed in the Word of God. All of creation was build around the cross!
Tom M.
God stands outside of time—thus His name: I AM—a constant state of the present. As for His omniscience and man’s free will—if the probability of Adam biting the apple is 100%, then all other options have 0% probability and therefore do not exist resulting in no free will or choice. I think quantum indeterminancy (ref. Heizenberg uncertainty principle) gives the answer, consider this: Can God create a random number? In order to be random, it cannot have any logic to its outcome nor can it be foreknown. God has built into the very fabric of the universe this subatomic imprecision so that the probibility of Adam biting the apple is perhaps .9999 but not 100%. God’s omniscience is to know all possible outcomes and combinations—an incredible number—yet still not infinite and thus allows creaturely freedom without loss of overall control—a vast range of behavior from the paradise in the garden to wickedness in the time of Noah and everything in-between.
Jonathan Sarfati
I must disagree—the God of the Bible is all-knowing without exception, i.e. he knows the truth or falsity of every possible proposition. Also, the laws of nature, including quantum mechanics (a good theory), are our descriptions of the way God normally upholds His creation (see Miracles and science, or tune in live to my talk at the Superconference on Saturday night about this topic). It follows that God is not limited by the way He upholds nature.

A better way to avoid the fatalism problem is to consider modal logic, as explained in Does God’s foreknowledge entail fatalism? See also What does God’s omnipotence really mean?
Elizabeth C.
Many people seem to have no problem questioning God’s existence or abilities. Scripture says:
Romans 1:19
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Gregory S.
If there was no "time" before the big bang for God to exists in. what did evolution exist in? Or put another way: What is the sound of one hand clapping?
Miki T.
Dr Kwame Nkrumah says in his Consciencism, 1964 that "neurotic insistence on the cause of the cause of.." must of necessity stop somewhere.
Jeff M.
Dear Russell

I wonder if I might ask a couple of questions?

1. God is eternal. If we, for example, take a very small chunk of that eternity - before He created the World - let's say a mere twenty thousand billion years - a twinkling of an eye to Him, isn't a period of 6,000 years (plus the next 300 years before the Rapture)not worth bothering with?

2. I refer to an earlier article of yours about Adam's sin. God knew billions of years before He created Adam that he would do so and that Adam would sin. He knew how and when Adam would sin. It was in effect pre-ordained, so how did poor Adam have a chance? If he hadn't taken the apple, God couldn't be omniscient?

Yours puzzledly (as usual)

Russell Grigg
1. Your problem is in equating eternity with time. As hard as it is for us timebound mortals to understand, God exists outside the flow of time. So the idea that eternity is 'a long time' is meaningless, as is the notion that one can see any time 'x' as a small fraction of that time.

2. Being outside of time, God knows the end from the beginning. Foreknowledge is not the same as predestination. Most theologians, even those who hold that we currently don't have the freedom to choose not to sin (i.e. we are either slaves to sin or to Christ, thanks to our Adamic nature) agree that Adam and Eve preFall did indeed have free choice.
Anton D.
It is indeed sad that a person with mental acumen (to use your appropriate phrase) of such stature missed such obvious flaws in his thinking.

A very clear question that most people tend to miss (when trying to find a way "around God"), is that we try to interpret and explain our environment - and particularly the 'higher order" things - from our limited perspective and understanding.
How can a rock explain (to another rock) organic life in a tree from its limited (non-organic) personal experience/existence?
How can a clever rock explain biological organic life in an animal?
How can an very clever rock explain human life to another rock? etc...

Regardless of who we are - our limitations are real, and must be admitted. By this I do not AT ALL suggest that we stop our investigations - it was (part of) the first and most core of our commands from God (to rule - and we cannot do so without knowing).

It is - admittedly - VERY frustrating to have to admit that we simply do not (and often cannot - as a result of our limited ability) know some things (yet). The result is that we then end up concocting our own little theories to fill the gaps in our understanding (of which so many of the "-isms" are evidence). The worst part is when we start selling these (often esoteric) theories as "the truth".

I so often fall into the same trap, and must constantly remind myself that I'm the proverbial dog, tree or rock...
john C.
As the universe exists now, matter and energy cannot be created from nothing. But if there was a time when there literally was nothing that existed then the rules that apply now would probably be very different and that matter and energy could possibly be created from nothing.
Russell Grigg
But created by whom or what? Even if there was a different set of rules from which something arose, rules are not 'nothing'. Self-evidently, nothing can arise from nothing, in fact, provided nothing is given its proper meaning.
Jesse M.
Hawking said “There was no time before the big bang … for God to exist in." Dude, God is not bound by time; He is self-existing and created time. What a ridiculous argument! This goes to show that intelligence does not equal wisdom.
Al M.
It certainly sounds more like fantasy than science. Basically, the idea is that "everything is a figment of your own imagination." And that is scientific, or based on reality HOW? It's so ridiculous, how is this an acceptable explanation for the universe? The lengths gone to deny the obvious...
Anthony R.
I was struck by the following quote of Stephen Hawking: "What happened at the beginning of the universe is the final key for removing the need of a creator..."
The final key?! A key is something we use in order to gain access to something - in this case, the removing of God!
In this one sentence Hawking betrays all his prejudicial desire to remove God from his own life and the lives of others. It is no wonder he does not 'believe' in God, if he does not want Him around!
So, like so many others who reject Christ, the argument is being put into service after the conclusion has been chosen, and it is no wonder that the argument is as empty as your article has shown it to be.
Mark J.
Thank you for a great article. What angers me is the fact that this illogical rubbish masquerading as science is forced down the throats of an entire generation. People like Hawking and Dawkins are in a position to pressurise governments into stopping the only viable alternative (creation) being made available to students. They will pay a high price.
Daniel R.
Stephen…instead of working from the false hypothesis there is no God that created the world, go with the premise of certainty there is a God that made everything. See what a brilliant mind can do aligned with Truth!... which is the key. Everything will fall into place, like tumblers in a lock to unlock the secrets and mysteries, and hidden things of the Most High God… to reveal the science of His creation. And far greater than that Stephen, the creation of a New Creature, I’m talking about you Stephen, I’m talking about Life Stephen, Everlasting…Stephen, I’m talking about Jesus Christ. Steve, there is nothing to lose but everything to gain. Steve, we don’t come to you with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the Testimony of God. Steve, we determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified. Steve, we are with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And our speech and preaching is not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of Power: …Steve, that your faith should NOT STAND in the wisdom of men, but in the Power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the Wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory. Which NONE of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. But as it is written, Steve, get this… I know it is True…Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that Love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the Deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost Teacheth; comparing spiritual things with Spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: NEITHER CAN HE KNOW THEM, because they are Spiritually discerned. Jesus Said In My Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I Am, there ye may be also. Steve, is this you? Have you received Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?
Andrew B.
I would imagine even Mr Dawkins is really embarassed by such nonsence and logical fallacy and would hope Stephen Hawkins would stop putting his foot in it. I do really feel sorry for him as it seems he has become so lost in his abstract philosophy as to make such simple logical and scientific blunders. From once being called a called genius one now is reduced to questioning his sanity. Such a shame.
michael S.
Science is supposed to stick to what it can tell us, facts about the natural world. So evolutionists abuse their position by voicing their anti-Theistic beliefs.

Such evolutionists are effectively saying; "I am a scientist, therefore when I tell you god doesn't exist, I am telling you as a scientist of great fame so you'd better listen to me because I am a pretty all-knowing dude."

Nothing the evolution-ilk have learnt had given them any spiritual insights, when they make comments about heaven and God, no offense to them, but they come off looking like wallies because that is not what they are qualified to tell us.

It's like a mathematician trying to explain the Mona Lisa, in terms of numbers, by telling us the picture is not art, and it actually a matter of numbers.
Curtis C.
His most basic fallacy is the idea that God is some evolved being inside of time. The Bible clearly portrays Him as beyond time, and the originator of everything about our universe, the creator. Not a creation himself. Really it's bad enough to see that blatant error the first time; that they repeated it without some kind of a retraction is especially telling. Are they really that ignorant or are they trying to hide it to keep people mired in atheistic thinking for ulterior purposes? Hawking especially should know better.

To "nothing more than physics" -- by the most basic definition, "physics" just means "how things work." If there is a meaning to life, given by God, that's part of physics. Just not yet realized by people like Hawking, sadly. With his "Game of Life" example, he failed to realize the meaning of it, which the evolutionist would think is to show that a universe can evolve; that is what the evolutionist made it for. Though in reality the meaning is that it took an intelligent being, John Conway, to design the program, operating on computers designed by intelligence, establishing rules that would hold steady to allow it to do what it did, which is what the designer wanted it to do.

Biblically, the meaning of life is that our Creator loves us, so much so that when we rebelled against Him, He sent his own Son Jesus to die for our sins and give us eternal, perfect life. :)
Mike J.
1. 'He begins by telling us his personal axiom that everything in life is nothing more than physics.

- If that's the case, Hawking has presented us with a self-refuting argument. i.e. his statement isn't true (or false) or even meaningful... it's just matter in motion, and there's no reason to pay any attention to it. (Whatever attention is, if all is physics.}

2. Whether or not Hawking feels a need for a creator doesn't tell us anything about whether there is a creator. Everything seems like an intellectual puzzle for him, and not something objective or real. e.g. for Hawking God seems to be some kind of answer to a puzzle, rather than a real Person.

3. Reality is not the world the girl sees or the goldfish sees; but the world God sees. i.e. it's the world according to God.
Only an omniscient being could know what reality was.

josh F.
The view that Hawking gives on reality is sad. If you kick a ball flat along the ground the fish would have seen the ball curve because of the curve on the glass bowl. In reality that ball went flat across the ground.
Chuck J.
It sounds to me as if he is crying out for help. He has boxed himself into a corner. He surely is intelligent enough to recognize the fallicies and contradictions of his own arguments. I am saddened that he is as yet unsaved. I pray that our Lord will open his eyes to the reality of the Biblical world view. Then, his pained soul can have peace.
Joel T.
I am shocked that Stephen Hawking has expressed such relativistic views. I knew that they were widespread, but I thought that people like him were immune to them. Most atheists I know would be deeply disappointed by his comments on the nature of reality.
Jack C.
Hawking is his own worst enemy. He comes with such ridiculous and impossible solutions to the origin of the Universe. He also insults people who believe in God. For example, he insulted people who believe in Heaven because they are afraid of the dark. Well, I responded back to him via email and told him I believe in Heaven but I'm not afraid of the dark. Yet another of his stupid theories bites the dust. As far as I'm concerned he's an embarrassment to both sides of the debate.

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